#67. Navigate! Next time you take a journey, either by yourself or with friends or family, take over the map-reading and route-selection duties

IDEA #67. Navigate! Next time you take a journey, either by yourself or with friends or family, take over the map-reading and route-selection duties. Find the most detailed maps you can, and learn to read them carefully and accurately.

Map-reading is an essential literacy skill that adults (including, alas, many teachers) assume that children have learned through osmosis. Unfortunately, this is seldom the case, and so even map-illiterate-proof resources like Google Maps and in-car GPS navigation systems are not always enough to keep people from becoming lost.erie

In the United Kingdom, home of the superb Ordnance Survey maps that can be found in many households, map-reading is something of a fetish, and excellent school geography curricula ensure that few British people are ever geographically lost, at least for long. Although American USGS topographic maps are of excellent quality, they are generally useless for just “getting around,” and their delicious intricacies are seldom taught in school. Instead, Americans rely on inconsistently drawn and keyed road maps that are seldom of a scale to be truly informative; increasingly, they rely on GPS readouts that concentrate only on the route and the destination, utterly ignoring terrain, settlements, places of interest, and other features that can enrich map-reading and fuel curiosity.

Nonetheless, American children can become excellent readers of maps, and the household that takes the time to preface journeys of any length with a review of the route will be modeling the idea of using maps as a resource as well as instructing children in their use. At some point the child can be instructed to do the route-planning on his or her own, and there will be some pride of accomplishment when the destination is reached without incident. It would be equally fruitful and fun to spend some time looking at an especially detailed, high-quality map—a government topo, perhaps, or a navigational chart—of a place with special meaning to the child. Landmarks and landforms, routes and settlements, all these have been determined by and/or have determined how a place looks and feels to those who go there and live there, and to a skilled map-reader a two-dimensional representation can be as informative and evocative as a photograph or even an actual visit.

For families who share an excitement about places and maps, there is also the potential thrill of taking a “blue highways” trip, in the spirit of William Least Heat-Moon’s extraordinary 1982 narrative of that title recounting his journeys off the interstates on state and local roads often portrayed in blue on old road maps.

#43. Learn to identify at least three different kinds of animal tracks

IDEA #43. Learn to identify at least three different kinds of animal tracks

While animal tracking is no longer a vocational necessity in most parts, learning to observe the passage of other creatures through our world is an exercise in looking closely and analytically at our environment. The tracks in this activity do not necessarily have to be of wild creatures; learning to differentiate one family pet from another would also fit the suggestion.

Animal track guides can be found in most reference books, even including some dictionaries, and local environmental organizations or hunting clubs may have specific guides to animals found in your region. With winter approaching in much of the Northern Hemisphere, snowy yards and fields become a great places to find well-articulated and easily identifiable animal tracks. If the child who finds this activity engaging should have occasion to travel, it might even be worth trying to locate tracking guides for the destination.

Identifying a track is one thing, but actually following an animal’s trail is another. If there is a teacher or acquaintance skilled in this art, then perhaps he or she could be enlisted as a mentor. Otherwise, the aspiring Davey Crockett can start by trying to identify all the tracks in a certain small area, perhaps, and then expanding the territory. Over time patterns may emerge, and the youngster can learn to see not just tracks but animal movement. Other clues that can be learned include animal scat (droppings), which differ significantly from one species to another.

As always, if the youngster’s tracking takes him or her into an area with natural hazards, some safety guidelines should be put in place through rules and instruction. If there is serious danger—poisonous snakes, for example—it would be better if the child tracked with a friend, and possibly an adult friend at that.

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